If work is worship is a butcher also worshiping by slaughtering animals?
Transcription: Suresh Gupta
Question: If work is worship, is a butcher also worshiping by slaughtering animals?
Answer: Bhagavad Gita 18.46 says,
yatah pravrttir bhutanam yena sarvam idam tatam
sva-karmana tam abhyarcya siddhim vindati manavah
(By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, a man can attain perfection through performing his own work.)
Often this is translated as “Work is Worship” but that is not what Krishna says. If we simply consider work as worship, then we could say that the donkey is the greatest worshipper because the donkey works so hard. On the other hand, “Work is Worship” is a valid and valuable ethical principle which teaches that everybody should work diligently, responsibly. Nobody should think that “My work is too small and worthless and so it should not be done”. If we are contributing in any role in the society then we have to do it properly and at the same time, nobody should be looked down upon for the kind of work they are doing. Everybody is contributing in their own way and so, all forms of work should be considered valuable. Therefore, in that ethical sense, “Work is Worship” is a valid principle but it is not a philosophical principle and is not a teaching of Bhagavad-gita.
Teaching of Gita is – By your work worship the Supreme. This essentially means that God is not disconnected from the world. Some people think, in order to worship God, one needs to renounce the world, go to a secluded place and worship God. Even Arjuna thought in this way and wanted to give up his kshatriya duty before the Mahabharata war.
If we look at the above verse, in first half, Lord Krishna is talking about connectedness of the world with God, that is, yatah pravrttir bhutanam (the whole world has come from God) and then, yena sarvam idam tatam (by Him the whole world is pervaded). Therefore, when we work in this world, we can worship the Supreme through our work. The stress in this verse is on the connectedness of God with the world and connectedness of our work with God.
Having said that, it is also important to note, what we do in this world affects our consciousness. There are certain works like the work where one has to kill animals daily which if seen from an objective perspective, means that such people have to desensitise themselves to the pain of other living beings, stop seeing those animals as living beings and see them just a source of income. This attitude will diminish their consciousness. If I am not conscious of your pain, then that is actually a decrease in my consciousness. If one cannot perceive the consciousness of beings around them, how can one perceive the consciousness of the Being who is beyond us. Their consciousness will get shrunk, it will get diminished and will not expand towards God. Everything comes from God, but everything does not take us to God. There are things in this world which take us away from God also.
I was in Australia and one person asked me, “If God is good then why are the good choices so few and bad choices are so many in this world?” I answered, “That is how it is in any multiple-choice exam, five options – four are wrong and one is correct.” This does not mean that the student could sue the teacher saying, “You gave me four wrong options, my chances of getting right is only twenty percent but to pass I need forty percent. You are responsible that I failed.” This is not a valid argument because the teacher has also given education to the student. The student has to study, and the choices are not guess-work, the choices are based on intelligence and study.” Similarly, in this world, we have to study Vedic scriptures and understand which actions take us towards and which take us away from God. We then need to choose actions which takes us towards God.
If somebody is a butcher, then what should they do? It is good if they at least think of God when working. Srila Prabhupada, at one time said, if somebody is alcoholic and they cannot give up alcohol then let them think that the taste of alcohol is Krishna. Everything attractive comes from God, so the taste of alcohol which the alcoholics find attractive also comes from God. If they think like this, then one day they will become a devotee of Krishna. Prabhupada is not saying that by drinking alcohol they will become devotee of Krishna, but thinking about Krishna while drinking, that thought of Krishna will stimulate the spiritual connection. Similarly, if somebody is a butcher and they cannot give up their profession, for whatever reason at that particular time, then at least they should do some activity to worship God, connect themselves with God and give the fruits of what they are earning in his service. By doing so, some level of connection will be established with God. It should be noted that butchery in itself cannot be a form of direct worship and is not going to take the butcher towards God. In BG 18.46, Krishna says, “Worship the Supreme with your work”, which means apart from direct worship, your work can also be engaged in worship. Different works have different consequences and effects on the consciousness. Hence, not all work can be equally considered to be a form of worship. The choice of profession is to be based on how it affects the consciousness. Will our work increase our consciousness towards God? Will it increase our receptivity for God?
One may also ask a similar question, “Can a woman, who is a prostitute, worship God by being in prostitution?” Certainly not because same prostitution may be causing some family to break apart. It may also cause this woman to do abortions and kill a life. Is that worship then?
There are things which connect us with God and there are things which disconnect us from God. Even if we cannot give up the things that disconnect us from God, at least, we should take up things which connect us to God. That is the beginning which will keep us on the spiritual path. However, if we start thinking that the things that disconnect us from God (like being a butcher, being a prostitute) are my connections with God, then we are fooling ourselves.
End of transcription.